Faith In Restaurant Week Restored

Two words: Henrietta's Table. In an earlier post, I wrote about how discouraged I had gotten with restaurant week. Luckily, I had a wonderful experience dining at Henrietta's Table. There, the restaurant week menu is the normal menu, and you get to pick an appetizer, an entree, a side, and a dessert. I had the rock crab and corn chowder (not a cream-based chowder and I loved it), the pork chop, red mashed potatoes, and the s'mores dessert. My roommate had the pot roast. I wasn't a huge fan of the flavor of the sauce on it, but it was cooked well and came apart easily with the touch of a fork. I think it makes a huge difference to be able to order the same food the chefs regularly prepare as opposed to something devised specifically for restaurant week. I must say the food was excellent, the service amazing, and the atmosphere friendly and welcoming. I immediately marked it as a restaurant I would return to and actually went there for brunch yesterday. Brunch was nearly as remarkable as dinner, except that my poached eggs were overcooked, the yolks all hardened. I can't really use that against them though as I haven't been somewhere in Boston for brunch yet that hasn't ruined my poached eggs.


Immediate Inspiration: Broccoli

I always check the mailbox when I get home from work. It's not that I'm ever expecting anything really exciting. To be honest, I usually get bills. But then there are those wonderful evenings when I open my mailbox to find a new issue of Bon Appetit, Gourmet, Food & Wine, Martha Stewart Living, or Everyday Food. Somehow seeing one of those brightly colored, food-porn-laden issues makes my whole night.

On this particular day, it was Food & Wine. I won't say the lavender-colored cover, which seems better suited for Easter, really caught my eye, but the little chicken brioche sandwiches with bacon did. I got inside my apartment, dropped my bag, flopped down in an armchair, and opened the magazine. I got as far as the table of contents before I brought the magazine over to the kitchen counter and began grabbing ingredients for the caramelized broccoli with garlic recipe. As luck would have it, my roommate and I had gone to Costco earlier that week, and we had a huge bag of broccoli in the fridge. I felt destined to make this recipe.

Along with the broccoli, the recipe calls for just a few simple ingredients that one is likely to have on hand: olive oil, lemon, and garlic (and red pepper flakes, but I left those out).

To make a whole meal out of the caramelized broccoli with garlic, I boiled some pasta on the side and then added the cooked pasta to the pan to sauté it up a little with the broccoli.

And to the leftovers the next day, I added tomatoes and sautéed those up as well when the broccoli and pasta were just about heated through.

This is a great recipe. It turns plain old broccoli into a tasty, flavorful dish. Don't forget the lemon juice! And I wouldn't hesitate to throw extra garlic in.


"How Does This Work?" My Mother Asked

I stayed at the Cape with my family last weekend, and on Sunday my boyfriend came up to meet them -- for the first time. Now, there were definitely plenty of things I was worried about. And actually, my biggest concern had nothing to do with him but rather whether our dogs would get along. He has a friendly, submissive chocolate lab, and we have territorial, alpha Jack Russell terriers. Needless, to say, that did not work out so well.

But what I hadn't expected was for my mother to notice how differently my boyfriend and I feel about food. I had surreptitiously and also quite obviously hinted at what should be on the menu when he came up. For breakfast, I suggested pancakes and then went on to make sure that my mom planned to leave the pancakes plain and just add blueberries or bananas upon request and leave all other toppings on the side. I'm not sure why she didn't give me weird looks at that point, considering I'll throw pretty much anything in my pancakes.

Then for the cookout later on, she mentioned doing hamburgers and chicken. That works, I thought. But soon she was rattling off potato salad and macaroni salad ideas and wondering what other sides she could make. Thinking quickly I reminded her I'm not a big fan of mayo-based salads and maybe we could just have some roasted potatoes on the side... and how about corn on the cob since there's a farm stand right down the road? So far so good.

And then the kicker: Since we were having a big group and we were on the Cape, my mom thought it would be the perfect day to have lobsters. And normally I would have agreed, except that the boyfriend is allergic to shellfish. I freak out enough going to seafood restaurants with him. I really didn't want to be responsible for what would happen around a table covered with 5-pound lobsters, people squirting lobster juice everywhere as they cracked open their claws, shells flying -- horrible scenes started running through my head. I mentioned the allergy to my mother, and suddenly we'd moved on to ribeyes. And dessert would be make-your-own fruit shortcakes. Perfect.

Breakfast went well, and I made sure not to tell my boyfriend that he had put turkey bacon on his plate until after he ate it. A girl's gotta have a little fun. And I don't think it was really obvious at that point what his likes and dislikes are. I have younger siblings who are ten times pickier than he is anyways, so much so that my sister always tries to skip breakfast and my brother requests eggs every day no matter what else there is.

Later on, after a competitive game of Scrabble (which we won only with everyone else looking at our letters and helping -- not my favorite game), playing with the dogs in the water, and taking the canoe out, it was time to eat again. When my boyfriend was putting together a cheeseburger later, my mom pointed out the onions, tomatoes, etc., that were on the table. I know I made some comment about how he wouldn't eat any of those, and my mom said, "That's fine if he just wants ketchup," to which I responded, "He doesn't even eat ketchup!" That may have been the first clue...

Of all the questions I thought my mom would ask throughout and by the end of the day, the one she came out with was not the one I was expecting. "How does this work?" she asked. She went on about what a big foodie I am and wondered how my boyfriend dealt with that. We both looked at each other speechless. I guess we had never thought about how we make it work because it just kind of works.

If I had to think about it, I guess it works because if we go out to eat, we each can choose our own meals and don't have to worry about what the other is eating. When we cook together, we tend to make more things that he would like, but it doesn't bother me because I cook the more complex stuff for myself, my friends, my family, parties, etc. And he doesn't mind if I make some fancier recipes as long as there are still parts he likes. And he's really probably not any fussier than the next person. It's probably more that I am in the extreme other direction as the most unfussy person around.

I'm also happy just being able to cook something for someone else.


Restaurant Week (Boston)

Now, I'm not going to start writing restaurant reviews, as I have no real authority to do so, but I do want to make a few comments about restaurant week. If you haven't heard of it, here's how it works: Here in Boston, we have restaurant week twice a year (once in the summer and once in the winter). Given that it's 2008, restaurants serve 3-course prix-fixe lunch and dinner menus for $20.08 and $30.08, respectively. (Next year will be $20.09 and $30.09 and so on.)For someone like me who absolutely loves food but doesn't have the budget to go to all the restaurants she wants to try all the time, restaurant week seems like a great opportunity. Of course restaurants like L'Espalier and Top of the Hub only offer prix-fixe lunches, so I will never be able to get to those (restaurant week always excludes Saturdays, and most places exclude Sunday lunch). I understand it's probably not economical for these places, given what they usually charge, but it would be nice of them to offer a dinner.

I see restaurant week as an opportunity to determine whether I enjoy the food enough at a well-known and revered restaurant to go back and eat off the regular menu and pay the regular prices. Given my experiences the past two restaurant weeks and now last night, I'm not so sure restaurants feel the same way I do. I can't imagine that people would pay full price for some of the food I've eaten during restaurant week. Two of my experiences have left me leaning toward never needing to go to those restaurants again. One of these was a much-talked about restaurant by the waterfront; the other a restaurant in the South End, a location known for its amazing restaurants. My only good experience was in the North End. But I still have another reservation next week, so we'll see how that goes.

I've talked with other people who have gone to some restaurants that I have not, and they all seem to have had the same experiences I have. Friends I've dined with have questioned whether restaurants downsize their portions since the price tag is smaller. I question whether the food is thrown together haphazardly and thoughtlessly. I don't care so much about how much food I'm getting but rather how delicious that food tastes. I expect creative things, mingling flavors, well-executed dishes. If I read a mouth-watering description on a menu, I want what's on my plate to match. I don't want a fascinating-sounding salad to be a pile of lettuce on a dish. And at the very least, if I order a filet medium rare, it should not come out medium well. It's sort of insulting, like these restaurants think that people who eat out during restaurant week know nothing about food.

I feel like many restaurants might see and treat restaurant week as something they HAVE to do rather than something they should do to attract new customers. Yes, there are some people who will eat out during restaurant week and never go to such nice restaurants again, but that doesn't mean they don't deserve a good experience. But then, there are also people like me who are looking for new places to dine and would return again and again if a restaurant could show me it was worth it.

I've been impressed by the atmosphere, I've been impressed by the service, but I've been let down by the food. I feel like returning to these restaurants would be a waste of time and money.

Have you gone out for restaurant week? Is there anywhere you have had an amazing experience? Have you been somewhere both during restaurant week and outside of restaurant week and had drastically different experiences?